Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Feeding our people

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you don't let show

I just found out that a friend has left her Unitarian Universalist church to go to a Unity church. She still considers herself to be a UU, but her church couldn't give her what she needs.

This was striking to me because unlike mine, her church is large. Through my experience, I've seen that my church isn't equipped to help those members with a big need. I've sadly shrugged it off as "well, we're not big enough/not enough people/no knowledge/no minister" etc.

Well, in her case, her church is big enough, does have enough people, has two ministers ...

She went through a tough time, led by a seriously ill mother. After being the volunteer head of RE for five years, as well as doing countless other jobs, she needed a break, and she needed some nurturing.

"The only time anyone called," she said matter-of-factly, "was when they wanted me to do something."


I've tasted a little bit of that stew, alternating phone calls about Sunday services with phone calls from doctors, but thankfully, there was a call from someone at church "just to check on us," and even better, a note left on our door from the same person, right after the Hurricane with a phone number circled and "Let me know if you need anything!" scribbled on it.

I guess that's the message of hope I can give -- it doesn't actually take much. Just one person can make the difference between whether you feel that your church cares about you, or has forgotten you ... until they call to find out if you're going to help with canvass this year.

It's hard. Face it, there are churches that know how to do crisis. I know, because I hear about them from other cancer parents. Churches that leap into action, organizing benefits, setting up care schedules, putting those in need, as Rev. Marlin Lavanhar described in his sermon after his daughter died, in the very center of the community to take care of them.

My church doesn't have the time or know-how to do that. But I love them, and I have friends there who put food in my freezer, and met me for movies when I requested it. There is enough there to call me home.

That's the pastoral care issue. But then there's also the issue of religion.

A couple of days ago, Stephen of Reignite mentioned an episode of Desperate Housewives where Unitarians were mentioned. After all the tragedy she has been through, she has Big Questions. Stephen asks, "What if Lynette had gone to a Unitarian church? Would she have found what she was looking for?"

I imagine it would have depended on the church. For my friend, the answer was no. She wasn't hearing anything in the pulpit about the big questions. She felt that they did a good job challenging her, via community action, but she didn't feel fed.

Lacking a ministerial presence, after the first go-round with childhood cancer, I had an aching need to hear others ideas about those Big Questions. I am fortunate to be in a congregation that generally supports anything its members want to try, so I helped start some "Big Questions" covenant groups. I knew that in my fragile state, I needed some "space" to really hear people, with no arguing, so I formed one group as a "Deep Listening" group. No interruptions. No "discussion" per se. Speaking only from your own experience, and allowing a few breaths of silence after each person spoke. It was wonderful. Is wonderful. It FED me.

I don't have any real answers here. Part of the issue is letting people know what you need. The other part is whether they can do it or not.

Letting people know what you need is hard. We have every hope that we'll be done with all this at the end of October (knock wood, Please God ...) and will back to church in November. But in retrospect, and for your own edification in case you ever have a similar case in your church, here's my wish list:

a) I wish a Board Member had called me once we learned the cancer was back to say, "You are immediately released from all church responsibilities. Let's go over what you've been doing so I can make sure everything is covered."

b) Huh. Nope. "A" would have done it all.

p.s. In regards to "pastoral care" ... you guys have been awesome. You have comforted me on my blog, and your blogs have asked questions, provided answers, and nurtured my yearning for spiritual contemplation. I thank you, and honor you.


ogre said...

Thanks for taking us all on this journey with you.

jbgrinch said...

My temple is the same way, I only get a call when the sound system is broken or someone needs more then the temple owns. I am always glad to help and would not dream of saying no. My mom who has been a member of the temple since I was 13 has dementia and I dont think that anyone from the temple has talked to me or dad about what we need. the temple is just too big and the small things get lost. The human things. It is my place, my home but it is kind of like an appartment building each useful part sepperate from the next. Leaving there is just not an option, I would be lost, as I feel you would without your church. With love and prayers on this new year. Jeremy

Lizard Eater said...

Shana Tova, Jeremy!